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Business Card Design: Better Than A Plain Ol’ Business Card


Going to web conferences is a great opportunity to make new contacts and exchange business cards. Unfortunately, we have an industry filled with creative people who have no creative marketing for themselves. Sure, many have business cards, but one in a hundred have something really cool. These unique treasures, cards, items etc. get kept, talked about and usually photographed and shared. This post is an inspiration for all you creatives to step up your game, either by getting things made or by making them yourselves.

A note of warning though: interesting promotional materials almost always cost more per unit than a white business card or require a lot of prep work, so you’re often going to have a limited quantity. Pick the people you give these treasures to wisely. Those people will feel more important for getting a limited edition, and you don’t run the risk of spending an absolute fortune (in time or money) producing mass quantities!

Get something special made Link

There’s multitudes of promotional companies out there to help you create little treasures. You can order them online, but going for the lowest price isn’t always the best bet: quality products in this case is worth a few extra pennies per unit. Make sure you get them produced in your home country as shipping to another company can cost you more than your items!

Brownie points for sew-on badges Link

Remember girl guides or boy scouts? For some, getting a sew-on badge (especially if it looks cool) will delight the inner camper and badge collector.


Sew on badge from

Pin them down Link

Pin-on badges are relatively inexpensive and if well designed (or with a cheeky graphic) will be attached to a bag or coat. I know I have at least one badge that I’ve received attached to my bag. Sam Brown’s pins, for his app, remindness2, combined with business cards in a little goodie bag, are a treat to receive, and a great way to get awareness up for his upcoming launch.


Goodie bags with badges from sam.brown.tc4


Badges from www.erskinedesign.com6


Badges and custom business cards from butterlabel.com8

Keep them stuck on you Link

Stickers are another relatively inexpensive ‘extra’. It’s especially great if you have a character or logo that has a lot of personality. Koshi, for example, designed the Songbird as a distraction from blogging and coding, but it ended up a popular character that made excellent stickers.

Not sure you want to commit to full customs? Try printing some off your printer onto sticker paper, or moo.com9 have small square ones that you can get made cheaply and quickly.


Stickers and t-shirts for Songbird by jkoshi.com11


More fist stickers13.


Mobus stickers; aren’t they cute?

Make a point with pins Link

Proper pins are much more expensive than plain business cards to make, but they do send a message: you have a certain ‘classic’ quality to your design, you’re not cheap, and attention to detail is important to you. Andy Clarke, from Stuff and Nonsense15, who is well known for promoting good practice in css (and author of “Transcending CSS”), is a great example of how you can match your brand image with your pin.


Pins on a business card from

Matches, tattoos and ornaments, oh my! Link

Promotional companies can create almost everything for you. If you’re a smoker, hand out a few packs of matches during the break to your fellow smokers. Is it near a holiday? Perhaps you can incorporate your card into a decoration! If you’re heading to the pub and you’ve created funny or cool temporary tattoos, you’ll be sure to find some enthusiastic friends willing to don your stuff.


Matches, ornaments and stickers from crumplerbags.com19


Christmas ornament from creativecommons.org21

Get lots of toys made Link

If you’ve got a cool character, want huge quantities (some places have minimum quantities of a few thousand), have a lot of money to spare (cost per unit may be low, but will easily put a dent in your wallet), have a huge lead time (definitely more than a month or two), and want things made properly in a factory, look into getting toys made. If you’re already an excellent character designer like Gavin Strange, you can get an established toy company to help you through the process. Upon making his first toy, Droplets, his visibility has sky-rocketed, and besides selling them to friends and family on his own website, he’s also in toy shops amongst more established toy makers. Those that purchase a droplet sometimes get little bonuses of stickers and badges. “Visibility has been unreal,” says Gavin.

You don’t need to a toy company to make them for you though. With a little elbow grease, you can organize the production yourself. If you’re going to do it without a company’s support, Figurepunk has this tutorial (click diy in the menu) for a brief overview of how Mashboy was designed and manufactured.

How cute are these Droplets?

All the different colours of Mashboy


One of those cows you can squish the eyes out of from www.simpleusability.com23

Image credit: Tamar Weinberg25

A cow keychain from

Go homemade Link

Make something cool, but make it out of paper Link

Making a real gear chain would be expensive, but what about a paper version? Paper is a very versatile medium and papercraft can make exceptionally unique cards. Time intensive, yes, but worth the effort to create something truly unique.


How to make a paper cassette27, as made by

Learn how to make your own business card with paper gears here28

Etched in their minds Link

Have any experience with embossing? Do you love playing with different etching techniques? It’s a perfect opportunity to create something unique and memorable.


How to make an embossed card30 by breakfastofhemind.com31

Playing games with them Link

Let’s face it: we’re an immature bunch, us creatives, and we like nothing more than a bit of fun and games. How about a business card that is also a weapon (not a handgun, but maybe a water gun, or as we have here, a catapult). Or, make your card into an actual game, like a deck of cards, or a role playing game?

The best bet is to find something that people will enjoy playing with. How do you know? Usually it’d be something you enjoy playing with too!


Created by Bryce Bell33. Watch it in action here34. Learn how to make it here35.


Playing cards for cscarts.org37


An in-conference game from

Something heart-‘felt’ Link

It’s amazing what you can do with felt. It’s also amazing how personal anything made with it feels, especially as a relatively inexpensive material.

How would you feel if you received a handmade doll? Dolls for Friends40 have a running list of people that inspire them (whether it be designers, actors, musicians etc) and then send out a custom doll along with their regular marketing materials about their studio. They’ve got lots of good publicity and feedback from sending them and, because each doll can take anywhere from an hour to a few weeks to create, they’re special for everyone who receives them. Erin Lynch, co-founder of Dolls for Friends, is very passionate about creating unique experiences: “Anyone can send out a tri-fold brochure or postcard (and in a lot of cases that’s fine), but why not give some art or design back to the people (or potential clients) out there that you appreciate? It’s all about spreading the love.”

You don’t even have to do something so time intensive or intricate as that though, especially if you have quite a few to create. For example, Tim Van Damme sent cozies, made by Leigh Hicks41, along with stickers and buttons, as “a way to thank the people from whom I’ve learned everything I know”, he says. Even though these weren’t intended as promotional material, he ended up getting a good amount of exposure from those people posting his packages on flickr. Genuine goodwill lead to genuine publicity.


A custom doll from


A special felt cozie for www.madebyelephant.com44

ARRR! It’s a treasure ye say? Link

The best part about getting a present is those seconds just before you’ve ripped into the wrapping paper. Giving someone a card where they have to open it up, like a hidden treasure, is a great way to be remembered. Anna Debenham, who made these scrunchup.com45 envelopes said that people reacted very differently to her cards, and said it was “a bit like watching someone unwrap a Christmas present.” Her card was a photocopied handwritten note explaining the scrunchup’s action plan, folded into a paper aeroplane and then put into an envelope. The cards have been a huge success: she ran out of them before the conference was over, and had random people coming up to her to ask for them.


A paper aeroplane treasure from www.scrunchup.com47


A special bag of columbian goods. In this case, I’m guessing it’s for a good Columbian designer!

Make things from scratch using reused goods Link

Cut from cardboard found on the street and hand stamped, the cards for theboxcat.com5149, clearly reflect the spirit of its app: it’s about “random things to do and things to think about” (to be released soon!).

Making a business card out of cardboard, old plastic, tinfoil or any ‘found’ material makes for an interesting conversation starter. We all have old rulers, board game pieces and other wooden bits gathering dust in drawers and attics. These things can be cut with a saw into more appropriate sizes, and a stamp doesn’t cost much to get made!


A homemade card from theboxcat.com5149


A card made from an old ruler


Information printed on an old domino

It’s all sewn up! Link

Can you sew? Using bits of material to create your entire card, or even just to add one bit onto it, gives your card a tactile quality that normal cards don’t have. It can also show people your crafty or crazy side, especially if you choose to choose a funky fabric, or if your stitching tends to be a bit hap-hazard.


A hand-sewed card by www.naifpanicscares.it55


A card that combines a traditional business card with sewing from sackwear.com57

Food for thought Link

At the dConstruct conference last year, ClearLeft58 had just released silverbackapp.com6259. During the break, someone dressed up in a gorilla costume and gave out free bananas stamped with their url. Everyone was a bit startled (it was only 10am, after all!), but I’m sure everyone remembers the ape, remembers the bananas and knows it was for Silverback. Talk about strong brand reinforcement for a startup! Originally, their designer, Paul Annett, wanted to create little stickers for the bananas, but it was too expensive. “Like good designers we pro yped the idea [of stamping them instead] and it worked, so we got some custom stamps made,” says Andy Budd, their User Experience Director.

Perishable foods only work on certain occasions, but there’s lots of other food type items you can use, including chocolates, candy or gum, all of which stays preserved and can be packaged quite small. Check out Sweet Impressions60 for more ideas. You can also just go out to the candy store and make your goody bags yourself!


A stamped banana from silverbackapp.com6259


A very fancy candy card from leica.com64

It’s a natural route to take Link

Imagine it: you’re trading business cards, and someone gives you a rock. Or a shell.

Do you have a logo with a flower or tree on it? How about a seed planter with instructions on care on it? Something from nature can reinforce a brand that personifies natural things. But stick to inanimate objects: no one wants a piece of rabbit skin or cat hair to put in their wallet!


A handmade rock business card created by Nathan66. Learn here67 how to make it.

Growing card, designed by Jamie Wieck68


Growing card for a landscape architect firm designed by Jung von Matt

Electrical delights Link

We work in technology, so wouldn’t it be great if you could bring technology to your business card? If you dabble in creating your own electronics, creating a dot matrix or flashlight out of your business card will definitely make you ‘shine out’ from the crowd. Tom Ward from, has created these and put up tutorials on how to make them. Cost per unit will probably be quite a lot (about $5 for supplies for the dot matrix or about $1 each for each flashlight, for example), and probably require a bit of skill. They may also inspire you to use your electronic skills to make something truly unique to hand out!

A dot matrix business card. Learn here70 how to make your own.


A flashlight business card. Learn here72 how to make your own.

DIY toys can be child’s play Link

If you can’t afford the costs of getting toys made yourself, or just can’t see yourself needing enough to match the minimum quantities (more than a thousand can be daunting!), you can also make toys yourself. We’ve already seen felt toys, but you can also make toys out of things like fimo or modelling clay. A one off toy like Koshi’s songbird is great, but if you’re going to get any sort of quantity efficiency, you can make one prototype, make a mould, and then pour your own plastic.

That’s what I did for my own mascot, safetygoat. I’ve probably made over 50 of the little guys that I’ve given out, and even though they’re not perfect, they’ve been very popular. One of them is actually on an around the world tour73!

Moulds can be made from silicon, and they’re poured with polyeurathane (a type of plastic) and then hand painted. If you’re looking for supplies to make your own toys in the US, try Tap Plastics74 (who also have instructional videos and a fantastic jingle that get stuck in your head… Tap! Tap Plastics!). In the UK, try TOMPS75, who I have phoned up, and have been very helpful.


A one-off special songbird toy created by JKoshi77


One of the replicas of safetygoat. Learn here how to make your own.

Useful and/or interactive Link

Some arts and crafts for them to do later Link

It’s activity time! Lots of people love arts and crafts, and while they’re sitting later constructing your toy or treasure, they’ll be thinking about you. That’s a good thing. If they’re proud of their construction, they’ll keep it, and people will ask about it. What else can you ask for?


Paint your own train from www.jfisherlogomotives.com80


Make your own car from www.intersectionmagazine.com82

Useful things (but in context) Link

Bottle openers are an obvious marketing item, but they can be done well. Look at Message in A Bottle’s bottle opener. There’s a purpose, and it’s done well.

Harrumph wants to be sweeter, movabletype wants to move and adjust things (I’m not sure this wrench actually works, but it’s beautiful!). Mamma wants to help bake you some cookies, and if you get attacked by vampires, breakfast of the mind has a stake ready for you in these homemade wooden cards. Never have a spare bobby pin when you’re looking for one? Yuka Suki’s card uses the pins to reinforce her practice: hair and make-up artist.

Look around you at everyday things and think about the context, metaphors and more that you can relate to your business in a meaningful way. Try and come up with something new and different: I’m sure we all like getting a new pen, but a pen is nothing compared to any of these examples!


A bottle opener from message.inabottle.org84


Personalized sugar from


A wrench from movabletype.com87


A cookie cutter from www.mamma.com89


A punch-out stake created by breakfast of the mind91


A useful card for hair styles from yukamakeupartist.com93

Just because it’s cool Link

Trinkets, coins and fake pills. Delightful, but just decoration. If you can pull it off, brilliant! These examples are all treasures to someone. I know I’d definitely hold on to a coin from Daniel Ballou, wouldn’t you?


Some pills from www.brand-doctors.com95


A personalized coin, created by Daniel Ballou, who works for dashdotstudios.com97

weird and wonderful business cards Link

Often you have a few really cool items to hand out to special people, but most likely have limited quantities. What about the rest of the people you meet? You’ll still need a card you can give out to everyone else, and there’s no need for these to be boring. Take Rick Braithwaite’s card, which tells a whole story, or lion in oils, which uses laser cut so it can be read both backwards and forwards. Giving your card a unique finish, a fantastic illustration or an interesting shape, like Depux, will earn you the coveted spot in a person’s wallet.


A crazy story of identity from Rick


A laser cut museum board business card from lioninoil.net100


A custom shaped card from depux.com102


Business card for incredible typographer, Marian Bantjes104

A small warning Link

The most important thing to remember when deciding what you’re going to use to promote yourself is: does this give people the impression I want people to have? For example, if you’re a designer for very serious pharmaceutical companies and are hoping to make contacts in that field, something really funky isn’t appropriate. But, on the other hand, if you’re a crazy flash developer with an obsession with fish and want to get into more fun projects, you owe it to yourself to create something memorable and creative.

You’re also going to have to carry this stuff around with you, so make things compact.

Let’s make going to meet other web people more fun by bringing cool business cards. We can’t leave all the cool stuff to the big corporations, can we?

Looking for more inspiration? Link

Footnotes Link

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SmashingConf New York

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Kat Neville is a freelance Canadian web designer (living in the UK) who is constantly coming up with too many ideas for new websites. She also loves arts and crafts, gardening and going on adventures. You can find her design work at

  1. 1

    wooow Just what we needed! Thank you so much! Hopefully you’ll see the results of our cards we could make thanks to this post someday!


  2. 2

    Jasper Kennis

    May 20, 2009 7:18 am

    Good post, love silk!

  3. 3

    While I love these posts (and all the business card collection posts on the internets), there is a hitch. Custom cards like these, with embossing/foil/die cuts yada yada are VERY VERY expensive.

    But hey, if you can convince a client to buy them, cool. But the average designer that doesn’t have more than a grand for more than 1,000 of these might have to simplify.

    Well, ok… the guy who wrote on rocks gets props… not sure I would distribute those though.

    Actually, I’ve been giving out little (2GB) flash drives that I buy in bulk that have my demo reel/portfolio on them, and I cover then in a simple glossy sticker with my website on it. Costs maybe $5 a pop, but for interviews and the “big ones”, they have been a success.

    • 4

      Really good idea the little flash drives! It has something mysterious and in the same way it makes publicity for your own name!

  4. 5

    Nice Article Kat…. Creative writing… enjoy reading. Business cards are cards bearing business information about a company or individual.

    Today a professional business card will sometimes include one or more aspects of striking visual design and creativity. I find many of them very creative from your collection. Thanks for sharing.

    DKumar M.

  5. 6

    Palm Pre images & Videos

    May 20, 2009 7:32 am

    Excellent post and a new learning for me..thanks

  6. 7

    Adam Cernik

    May 20, 2009 7:34 am

    Nice. A czech creative studio has sent some messages in bottles (per classic mail) and the message said: “Your current advertising agency needs help!”

  7. 8

    Ollie Kavanagh

    May 20, 2009 7:42 am

    Great post Kat! Great to see theBoxCat cards in there as well.

  8. 9

    Is there a link to sites which make custom cards

  9. 10

    It’s called Colombia, not Columbia. Our demonym is colombian, not columbian.

  10. 11

    Wow, how amazing is that catapult!? Thats the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Second coolest is the business card chia pet.

  11. 12

    Some of these are great, really imaginitive and creative, however as said in a comment before they are SO much more expensive and you do have to consider if it’s worth the extra cost for the job it’s doing?

    I wanted to do something custom with my designs (only a small thing) but it would have cost me 10x what it ended up costing .

    Nice post though, some impressive designs

  12. 13

    This is a great article, and one that I’d love to send out to my colleagues to spark their creativity, but I won’t/can’t, because of the “goatse” stickers and reference. Too bad, because otherwise this is a really fun article!

  13. 14

    Don The Idea Guy

    May 20, 2009 8:22 am

    Love all these examples. Perhaps you’ll consider adding mine to the mix?

  14. 15

    Luxury and smashing. I love it!

    Almost beautiful things, but if you imagine to store it all in wallet.

  15. 16

    So hot stuff!

  16. 17

    This is one of my top favorite posts SMag! I love it.
    Thank you for the ideas, some of them will be very useful for me.

  17. 18

    Great ideas here.

  18. 19

    at best.

    clearly you guys play in sandboxes and not board rooms.

  19. 20

    Someone dedicated a post on how to write on a rock? Really? How hard is that?

    1) Find a rock
    2) Find a pen
    3) Write on the rock with the pen
    4) Voila!

  20. 21

    Courtny Cotten

    May 20, 2009 9:21 am

    BTW the featured post image is the work of Eric Kass, check out the rest of his work

  21. 22

    Great list! I hope you will take a look at mine for my web design business, I laser cut them from my favorite model making material in Architecture School – Paint Color Swatches from Lowes. Free and colorful!

  22. 23

    I’ll tell you what, the cards for are excellent, but I can’t say the same about the website…. wow.

  23. 24

    James Yount

    May 20, 2009 10:20 am

    Good post! Props to Indy local Kass.

  24. 25

    Una fuente de inspiración excelente Saludos desde MX

  25. 26

    ED = Erectile Dysfunction = Failure

  26. 27


    May 20, 2009 11:05 am

    Some amazing designs… some real inspiration!

  27. 28

    They are fantastic designs, but in most cases these are a really bad idea. If you’re in a normal business where lots of cards are exchanged, people really don’t want to get these kind of things that they have nowhere to put.

    In a creative environment, where you don’t get lots of cards, maybe, but not in most businesses, I think.

  28. 29

    Willa is right. The goatse stickers make this on-forwardable. But the caption “more fist stickers” suggests the author is not actually familiar with what goatse is. And if you are not, google it at your own peril. It is very VERY NSFW.

  29. 30

    Sanchit Thakur

    May 20, 2009 11:30 am

    Nice post. Though its good to be different & make an impression, most of these will be forgotten or Eaten ( A banana!). Business cards should look great, be different from others, but they should be kept with people.

  30. 31

    Chris Robinson

    May 20, 2009 12:12 pm

    the cardapult and growing cards are so well done, diggin it! I just wonder what the printing cost was on those two projects…

  31. 32

    Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

    May 20, 2009 12:36 pm

    Great piece! Some incredible ideas. Thanks for including my train kit among the mix.

  32. 33

    Nice, awesome, great.

    Now you could post how to convince clients to pay for it.

  33. 34

    Whilst these “cards” are pretty special in their own right, surley they overlook one simple yet practicle point. Business cards generally get stored with other business cards and in my experience, thats in a wallet!

  34. 35

    I’m really sorry, but all these things are really old issues…

    Something new???

  35. 36

    This article is really amazing. I think all these novelty goods and cards are awesome when you want to make an impact that won’t be forgotten too soon… well, some more than others. (a banana?!?) That said, I have a few issues to bring to light.

    To be fair, the author does not refer to these items as business cards. However, the title of the article is a bit misleading. While all of them have something to do with business, many of them cannot be associated with cards by any stretch of the imagination. I believe that they are effective as marketing tools and we all can see the benefits of using them. However, here are a few drawbacks, mostly to do with storage.

    Scenario one:
    You check your business card holder before leaving for a conference or symposium to make sure you have enough business cards. You carry an extra wad “just in case”. You get to the event. The first person you meet gives you a piece of engraved terra-cotta. The next gives you an embroidered scarf. The one after gives you a stamped banana. Another one gives you a rock…! You meet hundreds of people that day. Where do you store all the stuff? At the end of the day, your business card holder (or wallet) is empty but your shoulder is aching from the weight of the tote bag full of “contact details” you’ve received. You wonder how the guys dishing them out brought them in in the first place.

    Scenario two:
    You were lucky enough to dodge all the bulky stuff. However, you have flat stuff of all shapes, sizes and description. You know you’ll be able to get them home / to work just fine, but how will you ever be able to file them for future reference without cluttering your desk / drawers?

    In defense of the standard business card.
    Most business cards are square in shape and more or less identical in size to a credit card. Being more or less standard in size, there are many storage options readily available. While the impact might not be as great, I believe they can endure for longer. Some of the examples above have managed to express the creativity of the designer within those boundaries.

    With that rant out of the way, I’d like to say that creative experimenting is the best way to unlock new discoveries and these designers certainly have a lot of it. I’d really like to see more similar ideas… only not classified under business cards. In Japan, there is a difference between business cards (usually plain and standardized) and shop cards (usually unique and creative). Does anyone know of an equivalent anywhere else?

    • 37

      I agree with you.
      I think creativity can be best shown when within that standard credit card size, you can still think out of the box.
      Design ain’t just about aesthetics, but also about function.

  36. 38

    Summary: Great design, but don’t ever let design overshadow function.

  37. 39

    Anybody have a good vendor who can print me some custom shape stickers? I’ve got an idea for a campaign/card.

  38. 40

    Duke Phillips

    May 20, 2009 3:51 pm

    I’d love to get the business card from American Psycho; right down to the card color and font, just to see if anyone I gave it to ‘got it’.

    Then I would high five them.

  39. 41

    awesome,I like them :)

  40. 42

    Sérgio Michels

    May 20, 2009 5:51 pm

    Just amazing!


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